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Will train engineer be prosecuted for dazed driving? Tough decisions in New York crash

Posted Dec 6, 2013 9:38 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Corrected: Will prosecutors file charges against the engineer who told investigators he fell into a daze before the crash of his Metro-North train in New York on Sunday?

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson hasn’t commented about possible charges against train engineer William Rockefeller, the Associated Press reports. It’s not known when any decisions on a prosecution will be made, though prosecutors often wait until the federal crash investigation is complete. Rockefeller's train was traveling at 82 miles per hour in a 30 mile an hour zone when it derailed, killing four people and injuring more than 60 others.

The lawyer for Rockefeller says his client wasn’t using drugs and he passed a blood-alcohol test, the AP story says. Nor was Rockefeller doing anything reckless such as using a phone at the time of the crash, the lawyer said. The engineer had awakened at 3:30 a.m. for his shift, which began at 5 a.m. He went to bed at 8:30 p.m. the night before, the lawyer said.

Prosecutions for drowsy driving can be difficult, the story says. New York jurors last year acquitted Ophadell Williams of manslaughter and negligent homicide in a crash that killed 15 passengers. Prosecutors had argued Williams had so little sleep in the days before the crash that he should not have been operating the bus.

Prosecutors filed charges against a Staten Island Ferry pilot in a 2003 crash that killed 11 people, resulting in a guilty plea. The pilot, Richard Smith, admitted he had taken a pain medication that can cause drowsiness before he went to work. Prosecutors relied on a maritime law that criminalizes negligence in ferry operations, his lawyer told AP. There isn’t a similar law that applies to railroads.

Updated at 9:38 a.m. to correct fatality number in Staten Island Ferry crash.

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